Do we who are Protestants really go by the book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
I was explaining to someone recently that my spiritual walk as an evangelical is very different from most of my fellow evangelicals. I don’t believe in ideas of feeling led or a call to preach as being normative. I don’t deny that God can do what He wants, but I always have to ask, “What does Scripture say?”
I see my fellow Protestants going on and on about how the Bible is central to our faith and practice. I agree with that. What confuses me is when it comes to this idea of how we live our day-to-day lives, it seems that our experiences rank above what Scripture says. If you want to know how someone knows that being called is a Biblical concept or how to know if a feeling is from God, they will point to experiences.
Now someone can ask “Well what about someone like Saul on the road to Damascus.” Sorry, but I don’t think many pastors who are in the pulpit have an experience of walking down a road, being knocked down and blinded by a light, and having the voice of God speak audibly. If anything, it’s quite arrogant to compare our experiences to Paul’s.
What do we have instead in Scripture? Let’s look at a passage like 1 Timothy 3. If anyone desires to be an overseer, he desires a good thing. In this case, it is talking about deacons in the church. The desire isn’t enough. Paul lists out the requirements. If you don’t meet them, you don’t get to be a deacon. In Titus, the same applies to elders. Paul lists the requirements for an elder and what an elder must be able to do.
Nowhere does he ask “Is the person called?”
What about something like giving to others? I remember being in a church where the pastor would regularly tell us to give as you feel led. Really? Go look at 2 Cor. 8-9. That is the longest passage we have in the New Testament about giving. Nothing is said in there about a feeling of being led. The only such similarity is that it is said that God loves a cheerful giver. Give and give joyfully. How much do you give? You use wisdom to determine that.
One of the great dangers of the normal way is that we can have any number of situations affecting our feelings at any one time. It could be that you’re hungry or that you overate. It could be that you’re sleepy. It could be you’re worried about something or you have a stomach bug or some other illness. It could be you just had a bad argument with your spouse or just spent the last hour stuck in a traffic jam.
So that system that can fluctuate on anything is also where we want to say God is telling us what to do? What on Earth happened to Scripture which is NOT like that? Are we truly people of the book?
And if we go this way, we will pay less attention to Scripture anyway. Not only that, we will give divine authorities to our inner impulses. I remember reading somewhere recently about someone talking about a program they did to service their community. It sounded like it went quite well, but what got me nervous was when they were talking about how God gave them such and such an idea.
Isn’t it presumptuous to say that God is the source of your idea? He might be, but do you want to just give divine authority to something like that? That one isn’t a Protestant thing. I’ve seen Catholics and Orthodox do the same thing.
I also think about how people talk about doing work and saying “I led so and so many people to Jesus” and then stopping and saying, “Well, no. God did it actually.” It sounds humble, but really, it isn’t. Consider 1 Cor. 9. Paul says he becomes all things to all people so that by all means possible “I might save some.” No one thinks Paul is thinking he’s the savior of these people, well aside from ignorant Muslims and atheists who I have seen making that argument. We all know Paul is saying he is the instrument. Yes. God is at work whenever someone comes to Christ, but is it honoring to deny that God used you? Be humbled by it. Accept it and admit the reality that you are a good speaker to these people to lead them to Christ and be thankful. The false humility says that the person and their willingness ultimately doesn’t matter.
God can use you and He can use your preparation and training. If someone asks me a question today about Christianity, they might think the answer only takes a minute or two. It doesn’t. It took several years. Those are just years of having the experience of studying and knowing how to answer.
Also, another aspect of all of this is how we are in our walks with God should not be dependent on our feelings, which again fluctuate. You can be miserable and close with God and right with God. Job was. You can be happy and be far from God and not right with him. Do I need to point out how many people this can apply to today?
So what would be the standard I’d use? Beyond just asking if you hold to a biblical faith, which even the demons believe many of our core doctrines, I could add in something the demons definitely can’t do. Growing in walking like Christ and trusting in God every day. Is your day-to-day living better than it was in the past? Are you having more victory over sin? Are you loving your neighbor well?
If you base any relationship in your life on your emotions, it will be doomed to fail at some point. If you’re married, you should know this. If you’re a parent, you should definitely know this. (How many mothers wake up with joy at 3 A.M. when they have to get up the next day because their baby is crying and needs something and won’t go back to sleep until he gets it?) Emotions come and go. Enjoy and learn from them, but don’t take them as divine. They are not.
Go back to the book.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)